The more time spent on phones during lockdown, the more exposure to online threats and dangerous apps we face. New applications and ways of communicating have been established since the pandemic and social protests disrupted lives. We have covered some of the challenges using tech during this era, including Zoom, but as technology evolves, it is important to keep up to date. In addition to misinformation and fake news, foreign players are looking to influence upcoming US elections by parlaying emerging platforms. We will look into some of the new apps, what to avoid, and an update on popular apps which could be unsafe related to data compromise.
This app is often called the newest “kids” app to surpass Instagram for Gen Z. Freedom of expression against the US government, police and in support of the BLM protests has been encouraged by some of its influencers. However, this platform has not tolerated the protest against the Chinese government’s abuse of its Muslim Uighur population and “TikToks” (short form videos) have disappeared. TikTok is a Chinese-founded and owned app, which causes concern for many in the US. This article states that “TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network” and adds “app behavior changes slightly if they know you’re trying to figure out what they’re doing. There are also a few snippets of code on the Android version that allows for the downloading of a remote zip file, unzipping it, and executing said binary. There is zero reason a mobile app would need this functionality legitimately”
US service members are forbidden from using this app for fear that it is pulling data from smartphones, and more voices across the globe are calling for its deletion. The general fear is that Chinese technology companies are spying on the US, particularly the defense industry. In addition, we must assume that Chinese (and Russian) propaganda trolls actively use this platform to sow discontent during continuing protests. Most people over 25 years of age do not use this app, but TikTok may grow up and generate widespread appeal.
WeChat is the most popular way for the Chinese to communicate, and it is monitored by the Chinese government for dissent. If you are not actively doing business in China, then you may not be using WeChat, but this app is important as it is an indicator of where communication apps may be headed. As this ZDNet article reveals: “China’s WeChat, like most social networks, is a haven for disinformation and “fake news”. Less well-known, at least in the West, is its role in mobilizing Chinese diaspora communities to support political policies or people.” The article continues that “these activities are coordinated through a system known as the United Front, a network of party and state agencies that are responsible for influencing purportedly independent groups outside the Chinese Communist Party.”
WeChat developed from a basic messaging app to one storing identity and allowing payments. Facebook and major banking institutions are exploring the migration to digital currency (and tracking user data). Civil liberties are non-existent in China, but this could be a harbinger of future governments (and big tech) tracking citizens. Both TikTok and WeChat help strengthen our social fabric, but are also tools for tracking and violating fundamental rights.
While the first two apps were Chinese, sadly an American tech company is (unsurprisingly) on this list. Big brands are boycotting Facebook ads (the platform’s advertising platform is too important – they will be back). In general, the public does not trust the world’s largest social network. Facebook has a long history of violating the public’s trust by continuing to refuse to monitor and take down hateful content on it’s platform, and is now at an all-time low.
Aside from Facebook and Instagram Messenger, most business people engage with WhatsApp, one of the world’s most widely used platforms. While it would be difficult to completely abandon this app, we advise being careful with the information sent. For Android users, it is advisable not to use Google’s Allo for messaging, as there are concerns about Google’s data mining.
Facebook is also not one of the Big Tech companies to scrap facial recognition technology. Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft have been leading the way in retreating from the use of this technology. In IBM’s case “the company said Monday that it’s dropping its facial recognition work in “pursuit of justice and racial equity.” IBM’s move is the farthest-reaching of all — it won’t develop or research facial recognition tech, period.”
In an election year we face a bombardment of differing content on television and social networks. Truth is already a victim, but we can take steps to avoid misinformation and protect ourselves by understanding what apps we use.